Best Hi-Fi Accessories of 2023


Having already reached my incep date, there is really nothing to lose suggesting that some Hi-Fi accessories make sense, whilst others are just utter nonsense designed to get between you and your wallet.

$1,000 Ethernet cables are a ridiculous waste of money. You will never convince me otherwise.

Power conditioners make sense. Within reason. None of that changes the reality that the wiring in your house which connects to you electrical box is probably not very good for sound quality.

Do you need to spend $300 on isolation platforms? They certainly impact the sound but at one point do we hit diminishing returns?

Adding a natural fiber carpet to your listening room and bookshelves at the first reflection points will likely have a more significant impact on the overall sound quality of your system than any of these accessories long-term.

Experimenting with the set-up of your loudspeakers is far more important than any of these accessories.

Selecting the “Best Hi-Fi Accessories” of 2023 required a lot of cable changes, swapping out of equipment, and some silly mistakes that resulted in pinched fingers, some blood, and even a broken remote.

Best Affordable Cables

Expensive audiophile cables are a hard sell for a lot of people and we totally get it after almost 3 decades of wasting far too much money on cables that really didn’t offer the performance and value for the money that we expected.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should not consider better quality audiophile cables. Just don’t blow your entire budget on a very expensive power cord thinking it is going to dramatically transform the overall sound quality of your system.

$3,000 power cords are a waste of money. You have probably noticed that every review of such a product is a rave. Nothing can touch its magic touch. The system took on mind-blowing levels of resolution.

Do you honestly believe that the reviewer is going to write anything negative about that product? Do you think the manufacturer would ever send said reviewer another cable to review if the review isn’t a raging river of praise?

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So what works well for a reasonable amount of money?

Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY Cables

Having taken the plunge over the past decade with QED and Analysis Plus, I feel confident telling you that products like the Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY will also get you 90% of the way there and that you are better off investing in a better pair of loudspeakers or amplifier than mega-priced cables.

The ShawlineX are so good at what they do for a reasonable amount of money that they give me a modicum of hope that some manufacturers understand that there needs to be greater emphasis on more affordable products and that consumers who are new to high-end audio will turnaround and explore something else if the industry pushes the “audiophile” cables schtick on them.

The Chord Company ShawlineX ARAY offer solid build quality, excellent sound quality with a wide array of components and loudspeakers, and deliver tremendous value in a category filled with overpriced products that don’t deliver enough of an uptick in performance to justify their prices.

Read our review here.

For more information: chord.co.uk

QED Golden Anniversary XT Loudspeaker Cables

QED Golden Anniversary XT speaker cable

Loudspeaker cables are a hot topic for audiophiles and after 24 years of listening to dozens of different brands, I’m ready to just pick something from my toy trunk (which my 16 year-old son felt he was too old for) in the basement office and be done with it. 

Synergy is real and I’ve certainly had a few experiences over the years where $3,000 cables sounded terrible with specific loudspeakers or amplifiers. That sounds ridiculous, but substituting a $100 pair of loudspeaker cables for the more expensive one actually worked better.

I already own sets of the QED XT25, Reference XT40i, and Signature Revelationloudspeaker cables; which are all very affordable, well made, and very good options for someone who has to review a lot of different loudspeakers and amplifiers.

These new QED Golden Anniversary XT cables are even less expensive than the XT25 that ran me $130 for a 6-foot pair.

The QED Golden Anniversary XT Loudspeaker Cables are a fantastic bargain for their asking price; the build quality, termination, and overall sound quality are very hard to fault. 

However, that doesn’t make them the “perfect” solution for every scenario.

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MSRP: £27 / €35 / $40 per meter | QED Dealer Locator

Related Reading: QED Audio Cables: Proof You Don’t Have to Go Nuts

Best A/V Furniture

Media cabinets and A/V furniture were also big sellers because consumers needed something to house all of their new electronics and soundbars; brands like West Elm, CB2, and BDI went on the offensive and introduced dozens of new options for your living room, den, or home theater room.

BDI gets a lot of attention from audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts because of the quality and flexibility of their products, but I was always slightly hesitant about that kind of expenditure.

I do love the mid-century modern aesthetic and we have more than a few pieces that fall into that style of furniture — it was just really hard to envision the children and dog not ruining it.

BDI is located in Chantilly, Virginia, and has been specializing in modern A/V furniture since 1984. When they reached out to see if we would be interested in trying out the new BDI Interval 7247 Modern Media + Storage Cabinet, I began measuring and thinking about where it would reside. Threats of iPads and video game consoles disappearing in the ocean surf down the street if there was even a scratch on the new piece convinced all 3 children and our feisty West Highland Terrier that this was one piece of “adult” furniture that would not be ruined.

Having owned more than a few high-end audio racks over the years, including one that ran over $1,000 USD back in 1998, I am more than aware that some racks and media units can have a positive impact on the sound quality of specific components — and a lot of that depends on the materials used in the construction.

BDI Interval 7247 in Black ash and Walnut
BDI Interval 7247 in Black ash and Walnut

BDI Interval 7247

This 66-inch modern media cabinet features an adjustable center glass shelf, a remote-friendly and acoustically transparent handcrafted flip-down door, and a variety of user-friendly features ideally suited for use as the center of any home theater setup.

A simple push effortlessly flips open the door to reveal a host of compartment storage, including a center shelf (models 7247 & 7249) that can be lowered to accommodate speakers up to 14″ / 35.5cm in height.

Our Q Acoustics 3090CI Center Channel Loudspeaker fit perfectly on the center shelf; the top shelf was actually designed for a 60″ wide soundbar without any clearance issues.

The walnut finish is superb and it took two adults to attach the steel legs and flip the unit carefully on its side.

Some of the BDI units utilize a glass shelf on the top of the cabinet and I was quite relieved to discover that the Interval 7247 does not; the natural hardwood looks better and does not vibrate in the same manner that a glass shelf would.

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There is more than enough room inside the cabinet for my Roon Nucleus, two phono preamplifiers, and a CD player.

BDI’s media units are not inexpensive but you really do get what you pay for with their products; the build quality is superb and the unit is incredibly inert and easy to use.

Where to buy: $2,749 at Amazon | Crutchfield

Best Affordable Phono Preamps & Cartridges

We can’t overstate the importance of a good phono preamp. Many new integrated amplifiers include an internal MM phono stage, but not all of them sound that great. They also don’t support MC cartridges unless the manufacturer has gone the extra mile and designed one with multiple levels of gain, impedance settings, and other loading options to get the most out of your MC cartridge. 

There is no shortage of great sounding phono preamps available below $800 USD in 2023. There are even 3-4 below $500 that are really worth considering. The differences in sound quality with a good cartridge can be monumental; tone, detail, bass response, and overall clarity takes a huge step forward. One of the most important vinyl accessories you can invest in. 

We’ve made a list of some of our favorite affordable phono preamps here. Brands like Schiit Audio, Rega, Cambridge Audio, Moon by SimAudio, iFi Audio, Pro-Ject, and Andover Audio – they have you covered.

Grado Labs Timbre Opus3

Grado Timbre Opus3 Phono Cartridge

Grado does offer some rather expensive phono cartridges but the vast majority of its sales are below $300 and products like the Opus3 make one question why you need to spend a lot more; I have always believed that it makes more sense to buy a better table and use an overachieving cartridge like the Grado Labs Opus3, Denon DL-103, Nagaoka MP-110, or Ortofon 2M Bronze instead.

The Opus3 is nestled inside a Maple housing (8 grams) and I discovered that it sounded the best on my vintage Yamaha YP-701 and the replacement Ortofon LH-2000 Headshell that I ordered during the pandemic for another cartridge.

The cantilever is made from aluminum and the Opus3 uses an elliptical diamond stylus; mounting the cartridge was quite easy and I settled on a tracking force of 1.8 grams which was within the range but closer to the very top. 

Grado offers multiple versions of the Opus3 including the high output (4mV) version supplied, a low output model (1.0mV), and a mono version as well.

The Grado does vocals about as well as any $200 – $300 phono cartridge on the market and it doesn’t matter if you’re listening to Amy Winehouse, Sarah Vaughan, Alison Moyet, Orville Peck, or Jason Isbell.

Presence, tone, texture, and detail have to be present or it’s just some flat rendition of something that doesn’t engage you at all. The Grado Labs Opus3 succeeds in every way with the kind of vocals that I enjoy listening to and that makes it a keeper.

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If your budget ceiling is $300, the Grado Labs Timbre Opus3 is definitely a high-output cartridge to seriously consider. 

Where to buy: $300 at Amazon | 4ourears

Goldring E4

Goldring E4 Phono Cartridge Front Under
Goldring E4

Some cartridges fly under the radar because the brand doesn’t get them into the hands of enough members of the press or because the price doesn’t create enough buzz in comparison to rivals. Goldring have been in business almost as long as Danish rival, Ortofon, and that puts them in rather elite company. 

The Goldring E Series are natural rivals to anything Audio-Technica and Ortofon have to offer below $300 and the E4 might best them all. I’ve been listening for the past month (the E4 replaced both the Ortofon 2M Red and Golding E3 on my NAD table) and it’s not even close. 

The Goldring E4 is designed to be compatible with all medium-to-high-mass tonearms of the type found on the majority of budget to midrange turntables.

What’s different about the new E4?

The super-elliptical nude diamond stylus features lower effective tip mass, and improved rigidity, which should result in better high frequency detail retrieval than ‘bonded’ elliptical alternatives. 

The E4 features a ‘nude’ super-elliptical stylus of just 7.6 x 18 microns (0.3 x 0.7 mil), which is cut and polished from a single homogeneous piece of diamond.

To complement its low tip-mass stylus, the E4 now features a hollow aluminum cantilever tube. 

The Goldring E4 delivers a more open and neutral sounding presentation with a wider soundstage. It is also easier to sculpt into a very specific type of sound which will appeal to those who use vintage receivers or amplifiers, or entry-level integrated amplifiers below $1,000 than often veer to the darker side. 

Combine all of that with excellent speed, timing, and resolution and you have one of the best sounding entry-level phono cartridges available below $300.

For more information: Read our Goldring E4 Review.

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Where to buy$299 at GoldringUSA.com

Denon DL-103

Denon DL-103 Phono Cartridge

Denon introduced the DL-103 in 1962 for professional broadcast use, and it has proven to be of the most popular and reliable phono cartridges of its kind. The low output moving coil design (0.3mV) requires a higher mass tonearm; opening the door to used Fidelity Research, SME, or EMT arms or more expensive modern arms from Kuzma, or Jelco (which recently decided to cease production). Jazz listeners have long prized the DL-103’s tonal balance and open presentation that make both brass instruments and vocals come alive. 

The DL-103 requires at least 60dB of gain to come alive; sticking a step-up transformer between the affordable DL-103 and the moving magnet input of your phono stage can be a transformative experience when everything is set-up correctly. Third party manufacturers have been offering modified DL-103 variants for the past few years at considerable expense, but our advice would be to stick with the stock model from Denon. 

Where to buy$349 at Amazon | Denon.com

Best Vinyl Accessories

Best Affordable Platter Mats

Budget Audiophiler Platter Mat
Custom cork platter mats from Analog Restorations 

Analog Restorations

The Garden State definitely loves its live music, rock stars, and record stores. We gave the world Bruce, Bon Jovi, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Lauryn Hill, Donald Fagen, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter and Count Basie. It’s also the home of VPI turntables and Analog Restorations.

Have you ever wondered where people on Instagram are getting those fantastic custom cork platter mats? 

There’s a company in New Jersey that makes them and we’re huge fans. 

The cork platter mats start at $26 and you can have it customized. The record cleaning wipes are more expensive but they work really well on dirty records that you might pick up at a used record store.

For more information: 10 Questions for Analog Restorations

Where to buy: $16 – $35 at analogrestorations.com

Line Phono Universal Turntable Dust Cover

Line Phono Universal Turntable Dust Cover

I have always wondered why hi-fi turntable dust covers are so expensive (I learned a lot has to do with shipping costs). Many covers cost the same amount as a Pro-Ject turntable! Turntable furniture brand, Line Phono, has introduced their own model ($119), which features nearly identical specs as higher priced models. It fits most turntables on the market including the problematic Clearaudio Concept and Marantz TT-15S1. It also fits on their Line Phono Turntable Stand. Note: double check the specs if your setup is on the larger side.

Where to buy: $119 at Turntable Lab

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Best Affordable Manual and Vacuum Record Cleaners

Spin-Clean

Spin Clean Record Cleaner

For more than 50 years, Spin-Clean has delivered the best-value record cleaner. It removes dust, dirt, film, grease & fingerprints, while cleaning both sides of the record at the same time. 

There are no harmful agents, alkaline or phosphates, and it’s totally alcohol-free. And it’s simple to use: no batteries or AC required. Acclaimed by both audiophiles & first-time users, the Spin-Clean remains the most effective vinyl cleaning option for the money.

Where to buy: $76.90 at Amazon

GrooveWasher Vinyl Record Care System

GrooveWasher Vinyl Record Care System
GrooveWasher Vinyl Record Care System

Mitch Anderson sent me a sample of the GrooveWasher Vinyl Record Care System which includes their proprietary record cleaning solution, a removable record cleaning brush that can be used either wet or dry, and a label protector. 

The oil-rubbed walnut handle completes the package and is built to last a very long time; it looks far more expensive than it is. 

For those who don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a record cleaning machine, the GrooveWasher kit works rather effectively; you spray each side of your record before playing it and clean it with the brush, wiping away all of the fluid from the surface of the record.

Having recently inherited over 400 45 RPM singles from the grandfather of my best friend who passed away and knew that I would appreciate them — I’ve had a chance to clean a lot of records in my spare time. 

The cleaning solution and process doesn’t provide for a deep cleaning in the grooves as one might get with a VPI HW16.5 — but that option has escalated to almost $1,000 in price (it was $650 USD less than 4 years ago). 

For a quick surface cleaning, which most of my records only require because I’ve already washed them with my Record Doctor VI Cleaning Machine, the GrooveWasher kit is an excellent option. 

Where to buy$39.99 at Amazon | GrooveWasher.com

Record Doctor VI Vinyl Record Cleaner
Record Doctor VI

Record Doctor VI 20th Anniversary Edition Record Cleaning Machine

The resurgence of vinyl was not only a boon for turntable and cartridge manufacturers but for the vinyl accessories market as well. Record cleaning machines never really vanished with brands like VPI and Nitty Gritty keeping the market well supplied but the rebirth of the record created an opening for other brands already in the analog playback space to offer their own cleaning machines.

Consumers can spend anywhere from $80 to $6,000 for a record cleaning machine and there is some merit to the expense if your record collection continues to grow and you really care about preserving your collection and the lifespan of your cartridge. 

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Clean records sound better and that means more playback hours for your cartridge if you take the time to clean and store your vinyl properly. The VPI HW 16.5 has to be considered the go-to unit if you have a large record collection and want something that will last a very long time. It’s also loud and not the prettiest piece of industrial design but it does the job well every single time. 

We know people who still use 20 year-old units on a daily basis and will buy nothing else.

The issue, however, for most people getting into vinyl is the price of a record cleaning machine; the VPI HW 16.5 ($1,045 at Audio Advice) costs more than most people have spent on their table/cartridge and it’s almost hard to believe that the VPI has gone up by over $400 over the past 6 years.

For those with much smaller budgets, the Record Doctor VI is a better option.

The Record Doctor VI utilizes a high-performance vacuum motor to remove all of the cleaning fluid and dirt from the surface of your records while you manually turn the record with the included injection-molded turner that also covers the entire record label to prevent damage.

The unit comes with a deep-cleaning applicator brush which you use to scrub clean the grooves with a record cleaning solution; the manufacturer sells their own cleaning solution, but we had good success with both VPI and Mobile Fidelity cleaning solutions as well. 

For $300, the Record Doctor VI does the job and without a lot of fuss. Like any record cleaning machine with a vacuum, there is a noise factor to contend with and this unit is only slightly quieter than other units that we have used. 

For more information: Record Doctor VI

Where to buy$299.95 at Crutchfield

Humminguru Ultrasonic Record Cleaner

Humminguru Ultrasonic Record Cleaner

This model has now been out for about a year, and the consensus has been highly positive – it’s an affordable, effective, reliable daily cleaner. The one criticism we’ve seen is that the ultrasonic cleaning doesn’t offer a super-deep clean as some solution-based washes, but with new ultrasonic cleaning agents (Humminguru makes one, so does Groovewasher), this should not be as much of an issue.

Where to buy: $479.95 at Turntable Lab

Best Isolation Platforms & Desktop Loudspeaker Stands

IsoAcoustics zaZen I & II Isolation Platforms

IsoAcoustics zaZen Isolation Platform

The zaZen is a new isolation platform designed for turntables, tube amps, and other sensitive audio equipment. The combination of the platform mass and the integrated IsoAcoustics isolation technology allows audio gear to reveal greater acoustic clarity and detail. The zaZen will be available in two sizes: zaZen I with a weight capacity of 25lbs (11.3kg) and the zaZen II with a weight capacity of 40lbs (18.1kg). The zaZen features an elegant medium gloss black finish over a dense fiber construction. 

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Isolation products come in many different shapes and sizes and while they certainly have an impact on the sound – the results are not always what you expected. Improvements in one area of sound reproduction are offset by a negative change elsewhere. 

We took delivery of a zaZen II platform and experimented with three turntables; a Thorens TD-145, NAD C 588, and Thorens TD-160 Super. The NAD C 588 weighs substantially less than either one of my restored Thorens tables and benefitted the most from the zaZen which lowered its noise floor, tightened up the bass response, and improved the overall transparency of the sound. The presentation moved slightly forward with the zaZen installed which was a benefit with the Q Acoustics 3050i loudspeakers in my system.

Placed underneath both a Croft RIAA phono pre-amplifier and Naim Uniti Atom network amplifier (see review) had a very positive impact on the sound; the Croft which suffers from a tiny degree of hum was quieter than usual (I’ve always suspected that its thin metal chassis was the cause), and the Naim’s midrange was more transparent sounding. 

Is the zaZen more effective underneath lighter equipment that is more susceptible to vibration or footfalls (in the case of a turntable)? Unquestionably so. 

Where to buy$199 / $229 at Amazon

IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

Vibration is the enemy; both in the recording studio and in your home when it comes to sound quality. Put your hand on your loudspeaker while listening to music and you’ll immediately feel how the energy produced by the drivers causes the cabinet to resonate. That level of resonance affects how your loudspeaker sounds. External vibration from your room, equipment stand, or loudspeaker stands impacts how your loudspeakers sound as well. 

The Aperta with an overall size of (W x D x H) 6.1” x 7.5” x 3” or 15.5 cm x 19 cm x 7 cm isn’t just one size fits all either. Specifically designed for use with bookshelf, desktop or floor standing speakers, they are available in different models to fit specific sizes and weights of medium-sized speakers. Sculpted from aluminum frames, the Aperta creates a parallelogram structure with isolators in the top and bottom sections to provide a high level of separation of sound. Build quality on the Aperta is superb. 

The Aperta offer a range of tilt which makes it extremely useful if you place your loudspeakers on a bookshelf or desktop and want to angle the tweeter at your ears and not at your chest. The impact on the sound is not subtle; the clarity of the sound improves dramatically, bass tightens up, and everything sounds more focused. 

One thing I did notice with warmer sounding bookshelf loudspeakers like the Q Acoustics 3030i, and Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s was a reduction in midrange coloration that some might find takes away from the impact of the presentation. Bass tightened up significantly but also lost some of its visceral impact. Vocals were rock solid in the soundstage and the presentation took a step forward as well. 

For more information: IsoAcoustics Aperta Isolation Stands

Where to buy$199 at Amazon



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